tv [untitled] February 25, 2012 8:00pm-8:30pm EST
people had to know it in realtime then and they knew it will in realtime through the pity and terror of war and tremendous loss and fear of just where this war was going. by the end of that year, there was no one who didn't know that the war was now about slavery. and america was about to begin to choose between a future with different kinds of hope in it. and to choose a new history. thank you. >> and i left out a lot of metaphors. you're lucky. >> again, questions, go to the mics on either side.
>> over. >> you mentioned how for douglass metaphor or the importance of the word was truly important. i'd like to know your opinion so that for us in 2012, what do you think of reference to douglass is biracial supposed to black or african-american or perhaps now with by racial, we could say an african-american american? >> i suppose he would probably appreciate the double hyphen i suppose in some way. well, first of all, his racial identity was very, very much a part of his public persona everywhere he went, both positive and negative, often very negative depending on the audience. he was constantly fending off in his time the charge that his great intelligence, his abilities with words, et cetera, et cetera, must come from his white pattory moneyny and surely not from his slave mother.
it's very interesting how douglass treated this question of race. he got deeply interested in ethanolgraphy. platform krick mentioned jackson's interest in everyonology. whoa, douglass got very interested in the racial sciences because there was such a terrible scientific cloud hanging over his people and he went and read everything that he could find in the field that was then called eth nothing and he wrote a brilliant actually lecture that he gave at a college in 1856 essentially taking to pieces the arguments, the biological argument of the racial skanss, that is that the rays were born with different capacities, different shapes and sizes of heads, different abilitieses in this field or that field, some born to labor, some not, et cetera, et cetera, but he spent his life at times i
think disgusted with even bored with the constant reference to race. as you may know, when his wife anna died, i said -- i didn't have time. i said so little of her. he met anna, a free black woman in baltimore when he's there as i an teenager. turns out they had grown up three miles from each other on the eastern shore. they knew common families together. they probably played at the same mill as children and didn't even know it. she died in 1882, mother of his five children. long and complicated marriage. after she died, he remarrieded a year and a half later a white woman, helen pitts. considerably younger. she had worked at one point as a kind of secretary in his office. they had by any measure a deep
and abiding love and marriage. traveled the world together. there are extraordinary love letter between them. he was pilloried in the press, the black press as well as the white press, the most famous black man in the world just married a white woman and his own children weren't comfortable with it will. this was 1884, not 1984 or 2012. his response was generally thank you very much. i will love and marry whom i wish. which is a very modern notion. at a time where racial ideas, oh, god, were self-wrought. what he was called though to get to your question, was generally a colored man. or a negro. the term black was not used that often. he was also called the "n" word
lots and lots and lots of times in his life, even on posters. n word fred to appear tonight, meet at such and such a street corner. mobs were organized sometimes to try to attack him at public speeches by that kind of phrasing on an alternative poster to the abolition poster. so this is a man that lived every day, this american deeply american problem of racial identity. but i can also tell you this. he never ever stopped trying to figure out who his father was because not only did he want to know who his father was, he knew his father was white, but a lot depended on that. who his half-brothers and sisters actually were depended on that, and he remembered them on the eastern shore. and in fact, when thomas ald was on his deathbed in the mid
1880s, douglass by then a famous man, almost four times he went back to the eastern shore this time with press following him, he went to thomas auld's deathbed in st. michael's maryland, maryland, essentially to ask him, are you or aren't you. he never found out. which in part becomes circumstantial evidence that auld was probably not his father but one of the reasons he went there, we think, was to pop that question. i can also tell that youen 0 his first ever visit back to maryland's eastern shore, the week after maryland became a free state in december, 1864, he went back to baltimore for the first time, free baltimore. he gave a speech. among the people that came up to him afterward was a black woman, a bit older than him. she walked up to him and said, frederick, i'm your sister eliza.
how you doing? i named my first son for you. he had a large extended family. black and white. and he spent a good deal of energy just trying to figure that out. it makes him in some ways a prototype of thousands if not millions of other americans who either seek to discover the multiracial character of their families and their past or who find out about it when someone tells them. yes, sir? >> did lincoln and douglas meet? yes. >> and i'd be interested, what was lincoln's impressing? what did lincoln state or say about douglass? >> well, yes, they met.
they met three times, almost a fourth. to make a long story short, the first is in august of 1863 at the white house. not by invitation. douglass kind of forced his way in on first visit. he went to washington. he got notes of introduction. eventually from the secretary of war as well as senator pomeroy and others. he went to essentially levy a protest against the methods by which black troops were being recruited. he was himself a recruiter of black troops by then, august '63. he went to protest against unequal pay for black soldiers, the lack of any commissions for black soldiers, the treatment of black soldiers, et cetera, et cetera. he had been very open in public in criticizing lincoln and the administration for this. they had an extraordinary meeting. douglas came away awed is the
only word you can use by lincoln. by how lincoln treated him so much like an equal. in fact, there's a speech douglass gives after this several times. there's this homely way he put it. he said, he made me feel big there. like a teenager, meeting a great man or something. it was actually two great men meeting one another. lincoln, according to douglass said yeah, i know about you. i've heard and read a lot about you. but lincoln also defended himself. it's interesting, lincoln defended how difficult these decisions and choices had been. they met in the second time in august of 1864. '64 during the overland campaign the incredible stalemate in virginia, et cetera, et cetera it, lincoln fears he's not going to be re-elected. that's a very real fear in mid and late summer.
he's facing mcclellan, of course, in the fall election. he invites frederick douglass representative of black america to come to the white house and among other things, asked dougl dougl douglass to boecome the leader after effort in cooperation with the union army and the war department toy funnel as many slaves as possible out of the border states, out of the upper south behind union lines and into the north if possible. a grandiose plan that god knows how this would ever work but to get as many slaves out of the upper south as possible before election day in november because if he loses the election, he fears that mcclellan and the democrats will turn around the policy of emancipation and the war will be lost. douglas was stunned. i don't know another way to put
it. here was abraham lincoln. he had attacked lincoln for the past 2 naf years, three years. here was lincoln looking eye to eye with him and said will you funnel as many slaves out of the south as possible, be a new sort of john brown for me? douglass said sure. thank you very much. he went back up north. he sent telegrams, letters all across the north. he was trying to put together a team of people and he did for a week or two that would sort of be the agents of this system. and then came the fall of atlanta. and that whole plan was completely ignored. and sheridan's successes notice shenandoah valley had something to do with it. what happened on the battlefield didn't really mat hyperthat plan was never put in place but the idea that lincoln was asking him
to do that was extraordinary. they then met finally at lincoln's second inaugural and probably running out of time, right? >> let's do one more. >> they meet at the second inaugural in the white house at the reception after the speech. which is a very moving moment. maybe we can talk afterward. yes, sir. >> would you confirm that his first wife refused to learn to read and write? >> yes, that's true. anna murray douglass remained a nonreader and a nonwriter all of her life. it's a complex story. we don't have real good answers for. we don't know if there was some kind of dyslexia or problem. what we do know is that he hired tutors. his daughter rosetta, their oldest child also worked very hard to help her mother learn to read and write. it never succeeded.
she and douglass had a deep abiding relationship and love but a very difficult marriage. let's put it that way. you don't want me to go into all the details of that. but her illiteracy, of course, was a serious problem, issue both in their relationship and in how the family communicated. there are lots of letters where douglass writes to his daughter or to his son lewis as they reach adulthood or before, and he will say tell mother this tell mother that, tell mother this, tell mother that. she was a great moek homemaker. bush administration every great reformer from great britain and the united states, name an abolitionist that came through his house at some point and had tea, anna served tea and left the room. while the grat -- great man
spoke to men, women, reformers, abolitionists all. often not in her presence. however, when she died in 182, he came apart. he boarded up her bedroom at their house at cedar hill, wouldn't allow anyone in. i don't know exactly what that means either, but i'm writing a new biography where i'm going to have to have something to say about that. i don't know what it is yet. it's a classic problem of a man who became a world class intellectual and indeed, his spouse was by and large not part of that intellectual world. it is the 19th century, however, and not the 21st century. and her children, the four who survived, they had another child died in infancy, or a child, her children were deeply loyal to
her. and although deeply loyal to their father, too. and it had a good deal to do with why they resented the second marriage. [ applause ] >> thank you. >> thank you. >> thank you so much. >> sure. >> david, if you can go down here. bob krick said, by the way, what they're doing now is taking questions from all across the country on the c-span audience. and bob said during his session on the phone with a c-span audience, they were getting questions quite literally from all across the country. i think it's a great way to reach a wonderful audience with a great series of historians. so there we've got it. we've got two of the five, stonewall jackson and frederick douglasss. let's go have lunch.
on american history tv on c-span3, we're bringing you all-day coverage from the library of virginias in rich monday with a look at the person of the year, 1862. the prem if "time" magazine had been around in 1862, who would they have selected as pair person of the year. so far we've heard from two historians, robert krick and david blight. you heard david choosing frederick douglasss as his choice for person of the year 1862 and robert crick who was the chief historian at fredericksburg for 30 years chose thomas stonewall jackson. we're going to open our phone lines here and take your calls. so you can get a chance to talk
to david blythe momentarily. the numbers are if you are on the eastern seaboard, if you're eastern and central time zones, 202-585 i 3885. mountain and pacific, 202-585-3886. make sure you mute your television. if you want to tweet us, our hash tag is poty 1862. and we will have one tweet from kashia who agrees with professor light that she says i think douglass should be the person of the year 1862. also at facebook.com/c-span, wes are posting the question there, as well. if you want to take a look at facebook and post your comments, you're welcome to do that. a couple here stephen grill says in a sense, lincoln was person of the year every year he was president. i suppose next to abe in 162, you would have to choose robert e. lee. david blythe joins us from the impt library in virginia, and he's going to take your phone
calls. david blight, welcome to american history tv. >> thank you very much. glad to be here. >> frederick douglass was born a slave but in the eastern shore of maryland. how did he so at such a young age become so such an integral part of the abolition movement? >> well, he didn't part of the abolition movement till he escaped at age 20, of course, but he was already well conditioned can, one might say with a powerful and abiding story. he escaped from slavery at age 20. disguised as a sailor with a few dollars in his pocket and a copy of one book. and he escaped by three ferryboats and two train rides to new york city. and then on to new bedford, massachusetts. in new bedford, he worked as i an caulker, and a day laborer until about 1839, 1840.
he escaped in 1838 but he began to speak at a black church. the african methodist episcopal zion church of new bedford and it was there that he was discovered as an orator in his fledgling youth of mere 21, 22 years old. he was discovered by william lloyd garrison's massachusetts's anti-slavery society. they vited him out to a big rally on nantucket island in august of 1841. he's only three years out of slavery. and there he gave his first public abolitionist speech. he was so talented, so effective at telling his own personal story as a slave that the garrisonians hired him, took him on the road and within a couple of years, he was probably the most sought after and famous abolitionist speaker on the entire northern circuit. >> we have lots of folks waiting on the line to talk to you,
professor blight. it's hearer from david in pennington, new jersey. welcome. >> hello, professor. thank you so much. i absolutely have to agree with you on the importance of frederick douglasss. i've always considered that douglass was one of the great triumph vir rat of people who helped to define american reconstruction, and i would be very anxious to learn, i always considered grant to be the person in the military sphere, lincoln in the political sphere, and douglass in the moral sphere. can you comment on how douglas may have interacted with these two people? we know that president grant who is probably underrated was a great proponent as the president to try to elevate the freed slaves. >> well, that's a very effective way of putting it. lincoln in the political sphere, grants is the military leader,
and douglass as the moral voice. douglass's role in what you describe as this long trajectory of the transformation of the american republic and the transformation of american freedom comes because the only weapon he had was the word, was language. he was never allowed to run for elective office. actually, he could have run for elective office in the south had he gone south during reconstruction for a short window of time. but elective office was never douglass's option and the military was never really his option although there were those during the war who criticized him at times and suggested that he should go join the union army after 1863. instead, he recruited his own sons. by then of course, he was 45 and 46 years old. so it's as a moral voice that
douglass has a place. he had been giving the country a narrative and argue, an almost infinite supply of metaphors through which to try to imagine the recreation of an american republic rooted in the destruction of slavery and the transformation of the constitution. one of the great facts or even ironies of frederick douglass' life, important 1818, dies 1895, if you look at the trajectory of his life, he's in his mid-40s during the civil war. he lives to see the triumph to use your word, the triumph of the cause he had spent his adult life arguing for but probably never believing he would see that triumph. but he then also lives another 30 years. he didn't die till he was 77. he lives another 30 years to see the virtual betrayal of that
triumphant cause. so there's a trajectory to douglass' life, call it moral, call it temporal, call it whatever you want, that is fascinating. his relationships, of course, with lincoln and grant were very complex. he met lincoln three times as i just said earlier here in the lecture. he meets grant, of course, not until the reconstruction years. he ends up meeting grant, in fact, at the white house. he campaigned vo sis russly and vehemently for grant in 1868 and again in 1872. and grant finally appointed him as part of the commission to haiti. it was a complicated appointment that douglas never felt very good about the way he was treated. but he saw grant as the leader of the party that home run in effect freed his people. and to his dying day, he was a strong defender of grant not only as the war hero, but even as the president who had
presided at least over some of the triumph's of reconstruction. >> let's go to the west coast and hear from seattle next. matthew on the line for david blight. welcome. >> thank you. i was just wondering, what do you think is the likelihood that douglass is going to win considering the light complexion of the crowd there? i'll take my answer off air. >> well, that's a very frank and good question. i'll give you a frank answer. i don't think i have a prayer. but i gave it my best shot as it were. and who knows? right? it depending on whether people -- i think in the end here, however people wish to vote on such a thing, it's probably going to be not about the complexion of their skin as much as it's going to be whether they believe the most pivotal actions by leaders in 1862 were on the battlefield or in this
realm, this moral realm, this political ideological realm in which frederick douglasss operated. douglass rop rated once again by his voice and by the pen, not as a soldier. and i'm up against here -- well, we don't know who's coming yet but i think we're getting some more soldiers. i'm sure we're getting some soldier, some very famous ones. that's probably where the rub is going to be. >> our caller from seattle was a good reminder this won't be decided till the end of the day when the all five historians are heard from and the folks in the audience there in richmond get a chance to vote. a couple more calls for david blight. let's hear from al, new york city, welcome. >> yes, hello, professor blight. i enjoy always the c-span forums especially on civil war history. and i wanted to ask you regarding the recruitment of black troops in which douglass participated in.
did he feel it should have been done earlier, more aggressively? >> oh, yes. >> or did like many people have to wait for the political realm to shift more in lincoln's favor? >> well, of course, both parts of your question are true. there's no question, douglass thought there should have been black troops in the union army from june of 1861. you can read his editorials and public speeches that argue that vehemently. he demands in the first summer of the war that those black militias that are marching on town greens across the north be allowed into the union army. there were black men desiring and offering to enlist right after fort sumter and douglass was advocating that. and he was advocating it even more strongly in 1862. once it finally came, of course, douglas was not only grateful,
he joined the cause by becoming one of the principal recruiters of black soldiers. he was one of the principal recruiters of approximately 100 members of the famous 54th massachusetts regiment, the black regiment organized by the state of ms. massachusetts. his first two recruits were by the way, his two sons, his 19-year-old son charles and his 20-year-old son lewis. that's something to contemplate a father recruiting his own sons into the army. >> david blight, we'll let you go here in a minute. i know there's lunch waiting. one more call and question for you from chicago. this is richard. go ahead with your quick comment, go ahead. >> david, what i -- how you doing? what i like to know. >> well, thanks. >> if frederick had come to now, what would he think about barack obama as america's first black president and also, do you feel that he would feel that thing
change but things never change but stay the same in terms of the way some of the republicans are treating america's first black president? >> well, there are two parts to your question. first, he'd have no doubt -- of course, we don't know. but he would have no doubt been as deeply moved at any of us by the election of an african-american to the presidency. it's possible douglass, he could speed through time and be here today, would have been maybe less surprised than the rest of us because he would not have lived through the terrible racial history from the turn of the 20th century to the present. he would no have the lived through jim crow. he would not have had that as part of had his memory. to your second question, i think one thing you can be -- you can rest assured about, if frederick douglasss were alive today, he could no longer be a republican. i mean that party of lincoln and that party of grant